I’ve been teaching English in Japan for three years with the JET Programme, and I love every minute of it!
Teaching abroad comes with challenges, so I will use this blog to review my experience with the JET Programme as well as share some TEFL activities that have worked well with my students and give you tips to work better with your Japanese co-teacher. Enjoy!
Using the Communicative Approach in Japan
The Japanese education system is largely focused on lower-order thinking skills such as memorization and comprehension, so introducing higher-order thinking activities can be a refreshing challenge.
Some examples include designing posters to introduce aspects of Japanese culture, categorizing new vocabulary words, and comparing the effectiveness of one English phrase over another for the given context.
Some students love learning English and are eager to participate, while others not so much. It’s hard to pay attention to someone lecturing in a foreign language! The Communicative Approach helps shake things up and get students involved throughout the lesson with friendly competition, small-group or pair activities, and bits of Western pop-culture.
The online TEFL course I completed with OnTESOL gave me the skills and confidence I needed to teach with the JET Programme! Get certified to teach K-12 English classes in Japan with a 140-hour course!
Collaborating with your Co-Teacher
Through most JET Programme placements, Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) teach lessons alongside Japanese Teachers of English (JTEs). This can be either a blessing or a curse depending on who your JTEs are and what sort of synergy you have in the classroom. It comes down to this: communicate, communicate, communicate.
Before your lesson, ask them what topic they want to cover, what grammar points or vocabulary to review, or what students are currently studying in the textbook. Offer your help with the lesson planning and give specific examples of what you’d like to prepare. During the lesson, you can check in with your JTE at any time.
Questions like “Do you think the students understand what to do now?” “Have the students encountered this term before?” or “Shall we move on to the next activity now, or in five minutes?” can really help the lesson run smoothly?
After the lesson, ask them how they feel it went, whether they think it was a good level for students, and what would be a good next step.
Whether or not you take their advice, this feedback time is important for improving relationships with your coworkers and showing them that you care about their opinions. You can maintain a positive relationship with your coworkers through humility, good humor, and a positive outlook. In this community-based culture, healthy working relationships are more valuable than gold! If there is one thing I have learned from my time teaching English in Japan as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT), it is how to be flexible.
Another thing to consider is that none of your co-teachers may be specifically trained to teach English. This has provided both fascinating and difficult situations, and there are many challenges an ALT could face while co-teaching.
There are also three different types of teaching styles you may encounter while teaching in Japan and provide some input on how you might be able to improve your co-teaching relationships with them.
For ALTs Co-Teaching with a Passive Teacher:
A passive teacher is one who does not contribute in class except to occasionally chime in and discipline a student.
The ALT ends up teaching the whole class. The best way to solve this problem is to involve the teacher in the class. Call out their name to ask them a question.
Plan an activity that the teacher can get involved in. Perhaps the teacher does not quite understand the lesson or is shy when it comes to speaking English.
Do the best you can to explain the lesson plan before class so that when the time comes, they are confident enough to contribute.
For ALTs Co-Teaching with a Controlling Teacher:
The controlling teacher is one who teaches the whole class and only has the ALT briefly contribute, like teaching the vocabulary words.
After that, the ALT stands off to the side and does not get used again.
The first step in dealing with this would be to meet with the teacher to talk about being more involved in the lesson. Share some specific ideas of more ways you can contribute.
For example, instead of the teacher explaining the game in Japanese, you could act out the instructions.
Try to give examples of things you can bring to the class that the homeroom teacher would not necessarily be able to provide.
From using classroom English instructions (i.e. please open your textbooks) to providing weekly updates of current events happening around the world, there are many ways your participation can be invaluable to the teacher and instructive to students.
For ALTs Co-Teaching with a Translator Teacher:
The translator teacher is a teacher who translates everything you say into Japanese. They do not wait for the students to piece together what was said.
One way to prevent this is to plan out what will be said during the lesson with the teacher beforehand. Tell them when translating is fine and when it should not be used.
The teacher should not be the sole translator either. Students who have understood what was said can be asked to explain it to their classmates.
That way the students can get more involved in the lesson and do not have the expectation that the teacher will always translate.
Read: English-Only Policy
In the end, it is about communication between both parties. Teachers are often busy and have many meetings. Some will work until the school is closed up.
If that is a problem, perhaps exchange emails or leave notes on their desks to communicate. Maybe even try passing back and forth an English class notebook.
The best thing for ALT’s to do is to create good habits at the beginning of the school year. Set a meeting time and stick to it throughout the year.
Make sure the teachers know you need to meet with them and what you expect from them.
Keeping in constant communication with your co-teachers will prevent a lot of stress and friction later.
Recommended or the JET Programme or any other K-12 program in Asia: 120-hour TEFL / TESOL course with additional 20-hour Young Leaners Specialist ($200 OFF)